If an individual is reporting concerns about:
Feeling isolated or disconnected from friends or family
Feeling lonely or lacking people to talk to about their disaster experience and how they are feeling in the aftermath
Difficulties accessing practical support and necessary information.
When a child or adolescent has been involved in a disaster
Increase awareness about the importance of social connections following disaster.
Work with the individual to actively plan to increase social connections.
Facilitate or encourage the development of informal social networks.
Facilitate social connections with organisations that can provide practical assistance like banks and insurance companies, and health care professionals including general practitioners, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.
Provide psychoeducation about the importance of social connections in the aftermath of disaster?
Assist individuals in social support mapping and increasing social connections?
Assist parents to address social support issues for their children?
Implement Imagery Rehearsal Therapy?
Social support comes in a variety of forms. It can be helpful to enquire about an individual’s access to all of these kinds of social support.
Enquire about children’s access to people they can talk to about their disaster experience and how they are feeling.
1. Provide psychoeducation about social support
Encourage disaster-impacted individuals to understand that social support is important for mental health generally and for recovery from disaster more specifically. After disaster, people may be dislocated from their usual environments and may have moved. Normal social support networks may be entirely disrupted or less easily available. In the aftermath of disaster, it can be helpful to review the types of support needed and to consider how to gain access to them. It is also important to acknowledge that disaster may result in additional burdens and stresses for individuals and communities, making it difficult for some to ask for help because they feel too busy or overwhelmed, or conversely they do not wish to burden others. Further, if survivors have had a loved one die in the disaster, grief may be prominent and may make it more difficult for the individual to engage with available social supports and connections. Do not push survivors to engage in social connections before they feel ready to do so.
2. Map social support by completing a social support planning exercise
Provide a Social support planning worksheet and work with the disaster-impacted individual to complete the document. Some survivors will have difficulty staying in the present while doing social mapping and some may find themselves focussing more on losses (deaths of loved ones, friends who have moved away, or people with whom they’ve lost contact). Acknowledge these and gently help them to refocus on people and activities in the here and now. If they seem unable to do this, additional mental health support may be beneficial.
3. Encourage social support for children
Children maintain social connections and deal with intense physiological and emotional reactions through their play. However, after a disaster, children may disengage from play and mimic the energy and posture of their caregivers. For children, playing with others is important for their recovery. Parents and caregivers should gently find opportunities for, and encourage their children to play in small groups. Caregivers can help guide children’s play to be constructive, fun, and not focussed on replaying the disaster.
It is important to monitor the success or otherwise of plans to increase social support. As social support relies on the availability and personality of others, access to the necessary supports may be slow to occur. Ongoing follow-up may serve to highlight the issue and keep it ‘on the agenda’. It may also allow the health practitioner to encourage seeking other avenues for support where initial attempts are unsuccessful.
Recommended reading list: